The mystery of Dolly Gray remains unsolved

Posted by Cliff Christl on May 31, 2014 – 10:38 am


He played in one game, but his name will live forever

GREEN BAY—In October 1923, the Green Bay Press-Gazette greeted the Packers’ acquisition of Dolly Gray with a rare-for-then eight-column headline that read: “Dolly Gray, Famous Princeton End, Joins Packers.”

The Packers list Gray on their all-time roster and credit him with playing in one game. According to the team’s media guide, “Made suspicious by Gray’s performance, Curly Lambeau checked the player’s background, only to discover he was an imposter. Lambeau quickly gave the player – whoever he was – his walking papers.”

The late Bob Carroll, founder of the Professional Football Researchers Association, told the story in more detail in a piece he wrote for The Coffin Corner, his organization’s newsletter.

So who was the imposter? That we’ll never know – if, in indeed, there was one. Or is it conceivable that history treated Dolly Gray as cruelly as life did?

First, some background: When the Packers signed Gray, the Press-Gazette identified him as Jack “Dolly” Gray, who had scored three touchdowns for Princeton in its big intersectional victory over the University of Chicago the previous fall. But the end who had earned All-American mention on Princeton’s unbeaten 1922 team was Howard “Howdy” Gray, who later became a noted surgeon at Mayo Clinic.

While no Dolly Gray scored three touchdowns against Chicago as the Press-Gazette claimed – Howdy Gray scored one – or was named All-American the previous fall, as Carroll wrote there were at least two Dolly Grays who made their mark in the sports world.

One was William Denton “Dolly” Gray, a native of Houghton, Mich., who pitched for the Washington Senators from 1909 to 1911. But he would have been 44 years old when Dolly Gray was listed as the starting left end for the Packers in a 1923 game against the Racine Legion.

The other was Laureston W. “Dolly” Gray, a star halfback at the University of Chicago in 1913 and ’14. Born in Whitewater, Wis., Gray would have been 30 in 1923. He also had only three years to live. He died April 22, 1926 from tuberculosis.

Considering L.W. Gray’s Wisconsin’s roots, could he have been infected by the TB bacteria but not yet diagnosed when Dolly Gray made his one appearance for the Packers? Might that explain why he couldn’t perform to Lambeau’s expectations? Could it be that Dolly Gray was a tragic figure rather than a fraud?

Perhaps, but not likely based on L.W. Gray’s obituaries in the Janesville Gazette and The Whitewater Register. Both stories said he had been suffering from TB for four years and that it had prompted him to move to Denver in 1922.

So the imposter story lives on. But who exactly was the Packers’ Dolly Gray pretending to be, considering no Jack “Dolly” Gray had ever gained fame at Princeton?

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